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Cruising Amongst the Karsts

May 7, 2011

It was an awesome day on the Gulf of Tonkin!! Our morning began with a short walk to the My Ngoc tourist office where we met up with two other couples who were going out for the same day trip adventure we signed up for.  The boats are the most interesting looking vessels.  They appear to be pieced together out of small bits and scraps of lumber, painted bright colours, with large masts and loud diesel engines.  For a minute, you may question the safety but the captain seems confident and the situation appears to be under control.  Agghhh, just relax “you’re on holidays!” 

We cruised at a loud-sounding but slow-moving speed, past numerous tourist boats (like the one we were on but ranging in size and style) plus, small row boats being operated by a single person, usually a woman, and many floating homes and rafts. 


It appears as if many of the Vietnamese people, in this part of the country, live on the water in either their boat or in a small shack not much bigger than the ice huts we use for winter fishing in Canada. 


The raft structures surrounding the huts are extensive and cover vast parts of the water.  I think there are nets in many of them where the live seafood (crabs, shrimp, and fish) are stored before being transferred to the markets and restaurants.  It looks like a difficult life but one I imagine the people here are quite used to. 

There are floating shops, kayak rental shacks, and we even saw a bank.  It looked like something out of the movie Mad Max and Matt honestly could not stop taking photos. 

It took about 2 1/2 hours to reach our first stop the Hang Thien Cung Cave.  The boat docked and we clambered up a steep set of stairs in the blistering heat to the entrance of the cave.  The stalactites, stalagmites, and cauliflower limestone formations in the caves instantly transported you to another place. 


“Are we still on planet earth?”  The shapes of rock jutting from the floor and the ceiling were incredible, like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

We took our time walking through the cave, stopping every once in a while to set up the tripod and take a few photos.  Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the pictures really capture the natural beauty of a place like this. 

The view of the docks below the cave exit was also worth several photos.  Boats coming and going, people bartering and selling cold drinks, and women collecting shellfish along the shore.  What a breathtaking view.

Back to the boat and we set sail again…destination unknown; no one speaks English (expect the really nice German couple also aboard).  We stopped to visit a second smaller cave before the captain found a quiet place in amongst the many karsts to drop anchor so we could all jump in the water for a swim to cool off. 

Oh, the water was so refreshing but we are guessing it was still about 80 degrees F.  Matt and I ventured away from the group and swam into one of the karsts, through a small opening in the rock, and out around the other side.  All the while the blue-grey water was crashing against the shell encrusted lower portion of the karsts.  It was really cool. 

All aboard…the day on this magnificent sea ship was nearing the end.  It was about 3pm and time to start heading back to Cat Ba Island.  You have to remember the top speed of such a craft is only about 8mph and if it took 2h30 to get out is was going to take the same amount of time to get back.  What a fun day!  We had blue skies and sunshine for the better part of the day and the sea was relatively calm.

It’s surprising how doing nothing but bake in the sun all day can  work up quite an appetite.  “What to do for dinner?”  Matt and I decided to take another short boat ride out to one of the floating restaurants.  We debated whether or not we really cared to go for a meal out there but then decided that if we didn’t we’d regret it. So onto another diesel spewing boat which delivers you to the floating restaurants about 400 meters  from shore.

There you are greeted by the waitress who ushers you to the back portion of the boat, where nets in the water contain living fish and baskets contain shrimp, crabs, and an assortment of other shellfish. 

You select what you want and they kill it right then and there.  Then, you are escorted to a table and asked how you would like your meal prepared.  Matt selected a rather large fish which was steamed with vegetables and spices and I ate steamed crab. 

It was by far the freshest seafood dinner I have ever eaten.  And, although I hate seeing animals killed it is an important part of the process and a great meal to end a perfect day!  The night was upon us but we were too tired to do any more.  So, with our feet planted firmly on solid ground, Matt snapped one last photo of the floating restaurants and we headed for the comforts of our 20C room at the Noble House.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. sylvia permalink
    May 7, 2011 12:35 pm

    only thing missing was “smell-a-vision”!

  2. May 7, 2011 2:20 pm

    It looked like an awesome day……just beautiful!!!

  3. shanna permalink
    May 7, 2011 10:18 pm


  4. May 7, 2011 10:51 pm

    What an amazing experience! I love that the destination was unknown. ha! Looks like your adventurousness is being rewarded. Those floating shops – and the bank – are something else!

  5. May 8, 2011 6:49 am

    I am enjoying this adventure along side you immensely! Thanks so much for taking the time to share it with us; I can’t tell you how badly I want to go to now!

  6. May 11, 2011 8:55 am

    HI Andrea,

    I am glad to see you are enjoying Ha long. We also did the caves and kayaking – your cave pictures are brilliant. Good idea to sleep on land though – the constant movement of boats can get to you.
    Enjoy the rest of your time there,

  7. thuong sapa permalink
    May 14, 2011 11:11 am

    haha! MATT fly! Amazing!! Very beautiful!

  8. May 14, 2011 11:13 am

    my happy water! very nice!

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